Building a network with intention and purpose is more critical than ever before. According to a recent Harvard Business Review article, 99 percent of any networking event is a waste of time. The trick is to focus on the one percent that isn't.
A few years ago, I was looking for a publisher for my first book, SPIKE Your Brand ROI. After my third rejection letter, I was stumped. The topic was original, timely, and well-researched. Having worked as a journalist for two major publications, I knew it probably wasn't my writing.
I swallowed my pride and called an editor to ask why I'd been turned down. The answer was informative: My lack of an online platform was keeping me from securing a book deal. From that point on, I made increasing my network and connections a priority. Here's how you can too:
1. Network in buckets
Perhaps you already have a platform, but nobody's noticed. One way to shine a spotlight on your platform is to lend it to someone whose own platform is already well-established.
Take a tip from professional speaker Phil Gerbyshak, who gets most of his work via referral on social networks. "If you have a podcast, column, or blog--interview people instead of just meeting people," Gerbyshak advises. "Figure out your list of questions for people you want to connect with ahead of time, and know that each person should fit into networking buckets, including a bucket for random connections."
By intentionally segmenting your networking efforts, your outreach will be more effective. Be sure to research the person you are trying to connect with and review what they like, post and write about. It will help you make a connection that is more meaningful.
2. Share and share alike
We all want other people to share our brilliant content, but that works both ways. Follow people you respect and notice what they are trying to promote. Think about their career and business goals and figure out how you can help them.
Share their content on social media. Tag them in the post, retweet them, provide hash tags and include other people they may want to connect with in your promotion. If you can help them, most of the time people will return the favor.
"When growing your online network, you must remember that a like, a link, a share, and a follow do not replace your face-to-face network," says Thom Singer, host of the podcast Cool Things Entrepreneurs Do. "It is not an either or. The online network must support real-world connections or much of if will be wasted."
3. Just ask
Sometimes just asking will get people to help you. Many people in my network are writers. I have no qualms about asking them how they got a column in a publication I am targeting. Don't be afraid to ask your network for referrals to their peers. When you connect, do so in a genuine way without appearing to sell yourself.
Once you're connected, check in occasionally to keep the contact going. They may post about a networking event, conference, or body of research you wouldn't normally know about.
4. Make connections
If someone comments on your latest LinkedIn article or congratulates you on a work anniversary, send them a message thanking them for their comment. If you follow up with an invitation to talk offline, you'll be surprised how receptive people are.
On Facebook, if someone likes one of your posts who is connected through a friend or peer, send them a personalized message and ask them to connect. Doing this alone will help you extend your network through your friends.
5. Scratch their back, they'll scratch yours
Mutual back scratching has worked since the first cave man got an itch. Help others build their networks and you'll end up adding to yours. If you think two people might have common perspectives or business interests, send them an email introducing them to each other.
Another strategy is to research people who are where you want to be in your industry. Then, look at who they are connected, what groups they like and what events they attend. Next, mirror your connection strategy to match theirs.
6. Be worthy--and worth the effort
People make snap judgments, especially online. Curate your personal brand with every tweet, comment, blog or Facebook post.
"Post quality, thought-provoking content," said Jay Karen, CEO of the National Golf Course Owners Association. "The good stuff gets shared, liked and forwarded and I always notice a rise in connections and followers."
Both on and offline, make it clear you're someone of value, with interesting thoughts and opinions. If that means posting less frequently, so be it. Let your presence make it clear that you're someone worth connecting with and referring business to.